Abandoned NASA launch sites photographed by Roland Miller.

NASA’s Crumbling Launch Sites Are Like America’s Greek Ruins  

NASA’s Crumbling Launch Sites Are Like America’s Greek Ruins  

Behold
The Photo Blog
March 18 2016 10:14 AM

NASA’s Crumbling Launch Sites Are Like America’s Greek Ruins  

V2 Launch Site with Hermes A-1 Rocket,Launch Complex 33 Gantry,W
V2 Launch Site with Hermes A-1 Rocket, Launch Complex 33 Gantry, White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico 2006.

Roland Miller

In Roland Miller’s eyes, NASA’s abandoned launch pads are the modern American equivalent of Greek ruins, Mayan temples, and Egyptian pyramids. But unlike those ancient wonders, many of these monuments to the Space Age won’t be around for long. That’s why he photographed them. 

Miller’s book, Abandoned in Place, published by the University of New Mexico Press, collects photos from more than two decades of documentation. Many of the structures he photographed have since been demolished, making the series a one-of-a-kind visual record of the history of space exploration.

“As time went on with the project, I felt a greater responsibility to photographically do these facilities justice. Now these historic pads seem like old friends,” he said via email.

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The seed for the project was planted in 1988, when an environmental engineer at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station asked Miller if he wanted some photo chemicals left in an office building he’d been renovating. Before heading to the darkroom, the engineer took him out to see the deactivated but mostly intact Launch Complex 19, where NASA launched the Gemini spaceflights as well as two Titan missiles. Miller, a long-time space enthusiast, hadn’t known the site was still standing, and he immediately decided to photograph it. 

Launch Ring, Apollo Saturn Launch Complex 34, Cape Canaveral Air
Launch Ring, Apollo Saturn Launch Complex 34, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida 1990.

Roland Miller

Cable Way, Apollo Saturn Launch Complex 34, Cape Canaveral Air F
Cable Way, Apollo Saturn Launch Complex 34, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida 2000.

Roland Miller

Pressure Gauge Panel, Apollo Saturn V F1 Engine Test Stand, Boei
Pressure Gauge Panel, Apollo Saturn V F1 Engine Test Stand, Boeing Facility, Santa Susana, California 1998.

Roland Miller

Two years later, NASA finally granted him access to the site. On his first shoot there, Miller said, he was nervous and eager to prove himself to the agency. His shots from the first launch pads he visited weren’t his best, he said, but they were enough to convince NASA and the Air Force to allow him to continue. Initially, his goal was to concentrate on documenting the launch pads used in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, but once he learned about other pads and research facilities involved in getting astronauts to the moon, he decided to include them as well.

Miller isn’t an engineer, so he’s relied on public affairs escorts from NASA—many of them are retired volunteers who actually worked at the pads—for information about the individual objects and structures he’s photographed. Miller is interested in the historic value of specific technologies, but he’s also concerned with aesthetics. Many of his photographs are abstract close-ups that focus on small details. 

Catacombs, Apollo Saturn V F1 Engine Test Stand, Edwards Air For
Fig. 3.5 Catacombs, Apollo Saturn V F1 Engine Test Stand, Edwards Air Force Base, California 1998.

Roland Miller

nasa1
Left: Blast Door, Apollo Saturn Complex 37B, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, 1991. Right: Detail, NASA Logo, Mercury Mission Control, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, 2009.

Roland Miller

Fig. 6.26
Fig. 6.26 Apollo Saturn F1 Engine Cluster Diptych, NASA Johnson Space Center, Texas 1996.

Roland Miller

For the most part, the steel structures Miller photographs are already badly rusting by the time he gets to them, and it’s already too late to preserve them. According to Miller, there was an increase in the demolition of old pads during the mid- to late 2000s, and he was busy photographing them before they disappeared. Now, he no longer lives in Florida, and there’s “not as much left to photograph,” so his output has slowed down. 

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Launch Complex 13, which hosted dozens of Atlas missiles and rockets beginning in the 1950s, is the most complete site he’s photographed so far. The pad has since been leased by SpaceX and turned into a landing site for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy booster cores. 

NASA may not be the only name in American space travel anymore, but Miller is still excited about what’s ahead for agency and its commercial aerospace peers as they continue exploring the universe.

“I think we are on the brink of a new age of space travel and exploration. Hopefully, it will inspire young minds in the way the early space programs did in the 1960s.”

Clean Room Winch, Universal Environmental Shelter, Titan Complex
Clean Room Winch, Universal Environmental Shelter Titan Complex 40, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida 2006.

Roland Miller

Rocket Thrust Mounts, Gemini Titan Complex 19, Cape Canaveral Ai
Rocket Thrust Mounts, Gemini Titan Complex 19, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida 1991.

Roland Miller

Flooded Room Beneath Pad 19, Gemini Titan Complex 19, CCAFS, FL
Fig. 4.9 Flooded Room Beneath Pad 19, Gemini Titan Complex 19, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida 1992.

Roland Miller

Blockhouse, Apollo Saturn Complex 37, Cape Canaveral Air Force S
Blockhouse, Apollo Saturn Complex 37, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida 1992.

Roland Miller